Three peoples’ lives become coiled around the unfortunate state of death with each experiencing individual variations of the concept. The recently released convicted felon, Ed Kunkle, faces reality on the brink of insanity as his past demons vilify his temperament in the direction of total carnage. Befriended by Kunkle is Eve Adams, a single mother who struggles to cope with her infant son’s untimely murder that happened right under her watch. Assigned to the Adams Boy’s case is detective Bodie Jameson who struggles with own malevolent urges brought upon by the unsurmountable cases of grisly homicides that come cross his desk while he also tracks down a child killer. Their differences connect them, looking into their future to rediscover the past that molded their disheveled lives into fateful affairs with death.
Over the course of three years between 2007 to 2010, auteur filmmaker Joaquin Montalvan directed and assembled a gritty glimpse into the grubby windows of condemned souls with the 2010 released “Hole,” produced by his own independent production company, Sledgehammer Films, and co-written with his longtime collaborator and wife in life, Eunice Font. “Hole” is Montalvan’s third horror feature following 2002’s beleaguered with loneliness thriller “Adagio” and psychological horror, “Mobius,” which was released the year prior in 2009, plus also behind a string of documentaries. Montalvan’s an optically surreal storyteller basking in a rich and unorthodox story and color palette that revives originality bobbing in an heaving ocean of lemming horror.
“Hole” is comprised of showcasing three stories from three tormented lives. One of those lives, the mentally unfit Ed Kunkel, gorges on being the centric force that thrives the other two into a descendant hell. The late Paul E. Respass tunes into Kunkel’s manic polarity as a person who can be extremely mild mannered and pleasant then explode with caustic abrasiveness and ugly torture. Respass’s shoulder length, wavy hair, graying goatee, and iron contoured face gives him a Charles Manson appearance that goes good with crazy. Behind closed doors Repass’s Kunkle breaks with sanity slaughtering his mother lookalikes as a result of mommy issues, but when conversing with Eve Adams, Kunkle’s maintains an upright keeled temper. Teem Lucas, who like Respass has worked with Montalvan previous, subdues the abnormal imbalance with a normal person’s reactionary response to loss and heartache when Eve Adams copes with the murder of her young child. In the middle these two extremities, detective Bodie Jameson’s work seeps into his psyche, fluctuating between irrational and rational thoughts. Another actor in Montalvan’s corral, Jim Barile, who looks more like a 70’s hippie than a detective, has the hardest performance of them all of slipping into a terrifying unknown mindset while maintaining status quo in work and romantic relationships. Barile’s role isn’t well recieved, flying mainly under the radar with an underperformed and pointless conclusion to detective Jameson right and wrong affliction. Charlotte Bjornbak (“Camera Obscura”), Katherine Norland (“Cannibal Corpse Killers”), Alina Bolshakova (“Dead End Falls”), Dennis Haggard (“Cannibal Corpse Killers), Theresa Holly (“Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher”), Micki Quance, Gavin Graham, and Char Frost (“Someone’s Knocking at the Door”) co-star.
Right away, a strong sense of resemblance washed over me when viewing “Hole.” The lead actor, Paul Respass, and the overall texture felt already acquainted with my visual cortex nerves. My suspicions were justified and my sanity was cleared as I have seen “Hole” before in a later film entitled “Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher,” another Joaquin Montalvan flick featuring Respass as a delusional manic. Yet, “Hole” is one of those films that after the credits role, hasty judgements should be chewed on, reflected upon, and recollected for a second analysis. Hell, you might as well just re-watch it all over. The thing with Montalvan is is that his brand has trademark cognizance on such a level that even if “Hole,” released in 2010, and “Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher,” released in 2014, instinctually ride the same wave, they ultimately compare as individual projects with a distinct personality and artistic flair. For instance, “Legend of the Hillbilly Butcher” denotes more of an homage to early exploitation films and “Hole” puts more stake into societal system failures, even if borrowing from the likes of Ed Gein with the killer wearing a flesh mask and sewing up a fleshy garment. Both films hark about mental illness, but one glorifies the act for the sheer sake of carnage fun and the other considers it a collateral damaging symptom of a broken justice structure. Another difference to note is “Hole’s” three-way non-linear narrative that moves like the Wonkavator from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in every way imaginable and can be daunting to keep up.
Out of the depths of obscurity comes “Hole” distributed on DVD home video by MVDVisual and Wild Eye Releasing under the Raw and Extreme banner. Presented in a widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Montalvan and his D.P. R.T. Norland, brightly bedazzling with every shade of matte box and some slow motion, play the field utilizing various techniques to tap into Ed Kunkle’s disorienting madness. Using backdrops like the ghost town of Bodie and the spiritual sanctuary (or bohemian commune) of Salvation Mountain, Montalvan’s able to cast an aberrant vision out inside an independent means. There are some points of posterization, details are softer than desired, and blacks lose composition with blocky noise so there are some drawbacks to the encoding. The English language dual channel audio mix pairs about the same as the video with spliced competing facets that tend to offer come-and-go range and depth. Scream queen moments go into feedback mode during Ed Kunkle’s kill mode, losing the ideal quality via unsound mic placement. Dialoge is okay being on the softer side with some background noise being flowing in and out between the audio edits, emitting a static effect around the dialogue and then cut out when not the actors are not speaking. The bonus features are aplenty and informative with a Montalvan commentary track, an extensive mack of documentary that fine combs every pore of the film that includes interviews with cast and crew, Ed’s Journal segment conversing about the backstory on Ed Kunkle’s perverse family and killed friends portraits and souvenirs, as well as trailers. Bloodhounds will want more from Ed Kunkle’s shed of horrors, but what director Joaquin Montalvan has fashioned threads madness with a neglected mental heath system while polishing a a shiny three prong, moviegoer narrative with blood, body parts, and butchery.
Art major Max lives a disciplined life, especially in the love department which is constantly challenged by her roommate to play the field, but Max aims for true love and will consummate her feelings toward longtime boyfriend, Brian, whose patience will be rewarded with a sexy maid costume at a Halloween party that will eventually lead back to the bedroom. Before the party, Max is kidnapped by masked men at gunpoint and taken to an abandoned textile factory. Surrounded by All Hallows Eve zealots and eight other hooded and bound women, Max becomes the ritualized girl number three, a number bestowed upon her as a chosen sacrifice amongst the brotherhood for sex and, most likely, death. When part of the crumbling building collapses, Max seizes the opportunity to flee, but as escape from the building seems impossible and other women screams echo through the vacant hallways, girl number three has been pushed too far and picks up an old fire axe, concluding that she must kill them all.
The second Shami Media Group distributed production to come across our chop block in a matter of weeks. First, the Nathan Thomas Milliner directed “A Wish for the Dead” written by Herschel Zahnd was the fitting entry film to ease into and extract our thoughts, takes, and opinions. Overall, Milliner’s film sold a solid product. Now, here’s Herschel Zahnd directing “Girl Number Three” that’s written by Nathan Thomas Milliner and Zahnd guides us down a completely different pathway from Milliner’s wish granting of undead havic and into a conceivably relevant sadistic exploitation and vengeance thriller. Released a decade ago in 2009 and based off of a Milliner’s short graphic novella, which seems to be a reoccurring and fruitful source of material for their production company Renegade Arts Productions, Zahnd’s ice breaker into the feature film market with “Girl Number Three” precedes the Milliner’s “A Wish for the Dead,” kickstarting the duo’s long wrong together into independent filmmaking.
With the two filmmakers so intwined, of course there are others, in the cast, that have had starred or have had bit parts in both films. Leading lady, Julie Streble, is one of them. Streble’s tackles the titular character who shoulders more than just being a conventional final girl; in fact, far from it as she’s a girl who makes things final…forever. Streble has an absolute vision as a scorned and beguiled woman to well-round Max’s initial love is true nature and her ideology slowly unravels as Max’s day trek becomes nothing more than an objectifying daily journey as the film progresses. From being bumped into twice by men, without an apologetic gesture, and being googly-eyed and hit on with unwelcome advances, Zahnd forces Max’s everyday struggle with the opposite sex down the audience’s already #MeToo’d cultured throats – remember, this film was made 10 years ago before many of the current movements. Other characters are not thoroughly developed to be systematically a part of the story to unfold in such importance, but play significant parts in her physical and mental reshaping of being a killer elite and the actors and actresses in those role include Kent Carney, Shawn Dolphin, Jess White, Jason Crowe (“Don’t Fuck in the Woods 2”) and “A Wish for the Dead” troupe – Dennis Grinar, Lori Cooke, Melissa Hoff-Decker, Chuck Lee Miller, and Adam Pepper.
“Girl Number Three” has a story that drives down a one lane road, a road certainly headed for Max to give her abductors hell, but a proverbial fork in the road puts a monkey wrench into gears already in motion. There won’t be any spoilers to be had here, but the outcome of “Girl Number Three” discerns differently in a social context that maintains another variant of disturbing exploits. A welcoming trickster’s commodity might change perceptions or might insight and evoke counter attitudes of how Max unravels her newfound vindictiveness. I praise Zahnd and Milliner for their foresight of a cultural that’s abrasively pandemic and how the structure of their film decimates one demeanor to seamlessly flow into another without a speck of hesitation. However, the latter borders being undercooked, and perhaps favors an unchancy raw red center, in not dumping more into the backstory or even circumnavigate with a savage shocker of an ending. The end scene was good enough to call the film quits, but not without leaving much to be desired.
MVDVisual and Shami Media Group ups the kill counter with the Renegade Arts Production, “Girl Number Three,” releasing the 80 minute unto DVD home video. The singer layer DVD is presented in a widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio. Filmed in black and white, the devoid of hues reinforces the subject tone while also appearing to shade obvious low-budget obtrusions. With a story that mainly takes place inside a ramshackle building, black and white was an obvious choice as colors receptacles would be sorely underused and everything would just appear vapid and monotonous, like looking at the same four walls in a prison cell or a high school classroom. However, there’s always a downside to shooting black and white, such as contrasts levels on an unstable picture and the evident presence of digital noise. Exteriorly, the blown up moon and glowing yellow building windows composite was superficial at best, but clever in a pinch. The English language 2.0 stereo mix had the worse of the two major technical aspects with a low-bit rate that caused some hissing flare ups, the lossy metal soundtrack lacks robust fidelity, and there’s was also a complete disregard for depth. For example, when Max is exiting a store on her cell phone, her vocals remain on the same audio level from the background to the foreground. The mix is what it is, but there are solid points for a decent range and an agreeable dialogue track. There are no bonus features available other than a static menu, with two options to proceed into the feature. Don’t know why. The DVD art from SMG is a gorgeous illustration of the titular character that’s sexy, raw, and retro. “Girl Number Three” has grindhouse bones and director Herschel Zahnd fractures conventional storytelling with a notable plot twist, but Max and her cobwebbed axe doesn’t just rack up a body count as the intertwinement of the person and the instrument of destruction only eviscerates temporary contentment waned much more cognition.
In the moments before attending a pool party, apparent strangers-to-acquaintances, a distinguished, if not quirky man and a promiscuous, self-involved German woman, withdraw to a secluded building in order for the brazen woman to shave the bikini line exposed excess hairs before strapping on a suit. Their intricately deep discussions about desires, sex, and kinky foreplay fair nothing more but course, blunt banter between two familiarities, but when the woman pretends she must be tied up and punished for playfully biting the man’s ear until bleeding, the next few moments after fall into a state of obscurity of a he said, she said rape accusation. As confounding declarations are made and fingers are being pointed to decimate lives, a sack of deceptions and an abundance of threats accrue through a blackmail scheme and an abduction based vendetta. Nothing can be certain and no one can be trusted between the two, but one thing is definite, a third man watching from afar has nefarious plans of his own.
Like sitting front row at a bastardized version of an off-broadway show, “Open Wound” is an immaculate stage performance of battered psychologies and visceral deceptions from writer-director Jürgen Weber. The thriller, also known as “Time Is Up” or “Open Wound: The Über-Movie,” measures extreme lengths of human bitterness while constantly shapeshifting into plot twist after plot twist aggregated with clusters of popup violence. The Chinese born Weng Menghan, under her moniker Tau Tau, is the financial backer of “Open Wound. The globetrotting author makes her breakthrough imprint into the feature film business that modestly begins with an opening scene about anal sex among other verbal sexual references before man versus woman fisticuffs and a pivoting third act that rapidly alters character compositions into, essentially, a free for all. So metaphorically speaking, a Chinese producer walks into a bar, sits onto a stool next to a German director, and orders one of the more absorbingly chic cocktail thrillers in English. “Open Wound” is a melting pot of cultural influences and a display damaged egos that’s simply brilliant.
“Open Wound” has a short character list comprised of three characters. The first is woman who is introduced first, or rather her lips do when she declares her love anal sex and the parallel criteria for types of cars in one man’s garage, as she’s using a straight razor to trim the dark haired pubes from her bikini line. She oozes eroticism like a bodily fluid that gravitationally seeps from between the legs, spilling innermost desires, whims, and historical sex-capades with in a philosophical prose. #Nippelstatthetze advocate, German podcast expert, and stunning model, Leila Lowfire engrosses herself into the role of fierce, proud, confident, and strong woman. With an established vigorous sexual prowess, Lowfire culminates the femme fatales and breakneck show-stoppers female roles, notably similar in Quentin Tarantino movies, with high-brow tastes and a debasing reprove. Lowfire’s accent is low and thick and can be considered her weakness here as getting your brain to interpret the fluidity of the words, structures, and compositions is undeniable challenging at times, but acts upon fervor while in her lingerie or even topless throughout the film. The contrast against man is stark. His introduction paints him as unequipped, socially inept, and hopeless desperate. Man longs for Woman, but knows he doesn’t have a chance with her until she offers up a random game of role-play that inevitably leads to disarray. Jerry Kwarteng’s man performance is systematically peerless and a complete joy. Even if the character lacks depth, Kwarteng’s range is devilishly good with the only comparison coming to mind would be James McAvoy and his multiple personality disorder in “Glass.” Once Man and Woman comes to terms after a back and forth bout with dominance, the Suicide King’s grand appearance bestows upon the plot an even bigger, clunkier monkey wrench. The Suicide King’s an ex-con, looking for revenge in a small vat of acid, and his mark and him have a long, complicated history which parts personally shock the other. Erik Hanson’s raspy voice, feeble appearing physique, and lofty age has a second row seat to his character’s unwillingness to die, in a slick performance that’s part nihilist and part psychotic to which Hansen pulls off.
Weber’s choice toward “Open Wound’s” narrative layout conflicts with how the DVD release is specifically marketed. “Open Wound” rides the dark comedy pine that is peppered with black tongue-and-cheek dialogue and violence and as will be noted later in the review, the advertising depicts something far more extreme and graphic. On the shock value scale of one to ten, “Open Wound” hovers around a solid five and maybe a seven or eight for the casual popcorn viewer and, personally, I don’t believe “Open Wound” was intended to be a source of utter distress and visual barbarity. There’s brisk lighthearted comedy that softens the blunt force. For example, in the room with the Man and Woman, a record player will every so often, to comically assist in explaining the actions, play the cheesy tune of lounge background music with a singer narrating the character’s every move and also be the voice of between chapter contention or bewilderment. The singing is privy to only the audience just as the twelve chapter titles that offer a mixed bag of sequences that interchange between English, German, and Chinese title introductions, a toilet paper title card in reverse action, and an artistic rendering of chapters titles and just like his title card introductions, Weber also utilizes an assortment of styles to tell his story, whether be a 5 minute sepia, nitrate film burn effect, or day dream sequence, that peers the sudden twists and eruptive chaos between the characters. While the effects work to sensationalize the context, they tend to be equally be nauseating and annoying as a disruptive structure that seemingly doesn’t make sense to the naked eye.
MVDVisual and Wild Eye Releasing distributes Jürgen Weber’s “Open Wound” onto DVD home video as the the 11th spine feature under the Wild Eye Raw & Extreme sub-label. The DVD is presented in a widescreen format and the image quality holds up well, withstanding Weber’s bombardment of stylistic techniques of distortion, over exposure, sepia, and contrast. There’s a little softness around the skin, more noticeably during facial close ups, with a slightly lower bit rate in the compression but still very agreeable detail. The stereo two channel audio channel does the job, but has flaws with Weber’s score have an equal playing field with the dialogue tracks. The audience already has to manage Leila Lowfire’s thick German accent and their ears will also need to try and filter out the soundtrack that’s invasive upon the colloquy. Not much range to warrant mentioning, but the depth was well tweaked amongst Weber’s visual compliments. There are unfortunately no bonus material with the feature, but the DVD reversible insert is graced with a semi-naked and bound Leila Lowfire. “Open Wound” is dangerous, sexy, thrilling, and complicated to say the least, but stamped as a Raw & Extreme film it should not; however, see this film! Director Jürgen Weber’s visionary molotov cocktail of a story is an underground must for arthouse lovers and noir enthusiasts.
After suffering the tremendous loss of her in-home hospice cared mother, Theresa descends into an inescapable state of grief and severe isolation inside her mother’s woodland home. Stumbling through life, she manages to show up at work, a cannabis distributor in town, with the verbal encouragement from her eccentric boss, but Theresa’s mind can’t grasp the reality of the situation and loses focus resulting in another tragic loss when she mistakenly hands over fatally potent pot to the incorrect customer, subsequently a friend. Along with grief and isolation, guilt comes into the fold and she begins lighting up her own stash of mind altering cannabinoids that thrust her mindset into disjointed delusions and sleepless strolls through the forest.
“Woodshock” is the 2017 drama thriller directed by two sisters: Kate and Laura Mulleavy. Credited as their freshman film, the Mulleavy sisters embark on an internal, unhinged perspective from their main character, Theresa. With that in mind, the filmmakers’ use of nature has both a symbolic and practical substance that paints the inner workings of Theresa’s thought process. Shot on location surrounded by the giant red oak trees of Northern California puts Theresa, this tiny human being, right smack dab in the middle of ginormous towers of pure ancestral nature and unable to fathom the full scope of the trees metaphorically explores how Theresa is unable to fully comprehend the overwhelming amount of emotions she ultimately succumbs to that lead her down a darker path. Nature, whether trees, butterflies, or, more so in general, landscapes, becomes a familiar motif throughout the film with the trees being the most repetitive aspect being exhibited in numerous scenes of being harvested by loggers, stripped and stored at mills, and lingering remnants of their once intact past.
“Melancholia’s” Kirsten Dunst fully embraces the role of Theresa with her mind, body, and soul by not holding back in a role that demands more of a solitary, voiceless performance blanked with grief. Dunst nails it with ease. Accompany the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” actress is Denmark born Pilou Asbæk as the pot dispenser shop owner Keith who conspires to work out deals with his special customers in need of once and for all ceasing the pain of ailment. The dynamic between the two is hot and cold as the sensation of tension is always present even if the dialogue is not. Asbæk’s Keith actually drives the plot, creating situations that put Theresa in a dilemma inducing pickle and he certainly takes advantage of her grief. Asbæk smug performance couldn’t get anymore complex as he portrays an arrogant, hippie-esque pot shop entrepreneur in a small Washington state town, but exhibits a softer side, especially for his friends and for Theresa, at times. Joe Cole (“Green Room”), Steph DuVall (“Scanner Cop”), and Jack Kilmer costar.
“Woodshock,” as a whole, attempts to grapple too much in the dimension of the subliminal. The Mulleavy sisters focus on symbolizing and using metaphors rather than being straight shooters to communicate Theresa’s internal struggle and between the montage of trees, the vibrant visuals, the double exposures, and various angles of a single action, there’s a choke that occurs, making apprehension hard to swallow. The siblings also display their inexperience at times. Despite completing impressive artistic visuals and able to create some slight movie magic as independent filmmakers, the directors’ choice to keep scenes from being cut and left on the editing room floor are questionable. One example would be Keith in the bar, moving his arms in a slow, locomotive motion, listening to a mellow track on the jukebox This scene is late is near the latter part of the film and doesn’t convey anything more about the character than already established with no transition scene to provide any kind of setup, background, or foreshadowing.
Lionsgate Films presents “Woodshock” onto a slip-covered High Definition, 1080p Blu-ray plus Digital HD. The MPEG-4 AVC encoded BD-25 disc has an widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1 that’s conventionally stable. Faint grain filters through, but this could be an intentional cinematography tactic. The English DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t wired to pair with such slow, mellow storyline that doesn’t have a range to fully test the HD quality except for invigorating Peter Raeburn’s enlightening hodgepodge score. The dialogue track is muddled and nearly unintelligible by the overshadowing score. Bonus material includes “Making Woodshock: A Mental Landscape” that opens up Kate and Laura’s intentions in expressing Theresa as a character, their style in filmmaking, and to up sell their cast and crew. “Woodshock” is an artistic visual stimulation with no rival, but Kate and Laure’s inexperience emanates through more than their subliminal sub-contexts. Kirsten Dunst marvelously challenges herself that inarguably gives her even more of a range as an actress that only proves her ability to not be a one trick pony in and out of Hollywood.
Los Angeles’ skid row is the desolated and forgotten residence to countless displaced people living in tents or sleeping bags on the cold streets, fighting ever which way they can to live just one more day. When three University of Southern California students take a wrong turn onto the streets of skid row, a dangerous world opens to them where being young and privileged doesn’t warrant an easy pass through LA’s notorious “The Nickel.” A homeless gang, ramrodded by a vicious vagrant named Wilco, catches them trespassing under the unused sixth street bridge and detains them until the situation turns deadly wrong. When one of the students, Marshall, escapes naked and on foot, a chase ensues through the empty concrete jungle, and as he attempts to retrieve help, he encounters wretched night owls who are just as dangerous, or if not more so, than Wilco and his gang.
The very first impression from the films of “Parasites’” director Chad Ferrin came in the form of Ferrin’s 2003 underground cannibal dweller film “The Ghouls” and, retrieving past critiques or comments from past yonder, I wasn’t too thrilled with his indie sophomore feature. However, after sitting through “Parasites” and being a fan of the 2009 pleasantly berserk “Someone’s Knocking at the Door,” a second viewing might be warranted. The 2016 film, shot on location, defines Ferrin’s immense penchant for independent filmmaking that basically tells a story of one man’s perilous and herring marathon journey through the meat grinder of Los Angeles while also reminding and resonating viewers that the homeless are just an unfortunate alternate version of ourselves.
“Parasites” will suck every once of hope and happiness one might have for humanity to the point of believing in misanthropic perspectives. Purely oozing with cynicism in a nightmare scenario, the story couldn’t have reached such depths without a few key performances such by Robert Miano (“Giallo”), a bold and enduring role for Sean Samuels, and an always pleasant cameo by “Day of the Dead’s” most villainous captain, Joseph Pilato. Though, some exaggerated moments of peculiar over performances and prolonged montage scenes of Sean Samuels running through the barren Skid Row maze run their course with seizing captivation, but Miano steals many scenes with his spiteful portrayal of an overprotective, mad dog violent bum being the venomous snakehead of a 1980’s style street gang whose keen on hunting down and burying a college quarterback.
What I also found interesting about the Ferrin’s scripted-narrative is the severe lack of tension with race and gender relations between the eclectic group of characters. Much of the action and dialogue flows freely without much opposition as if the racial slang or the running down of a young black man is normalcy. Gang leader Wilco only cares about one thing, his dilapidated corner of L.A., and berates everyone in a fit of racism peppered with nihilism. Ferrin purposefully implemented a Hispanic and an Asian in Wilco’s crew to run rampant with obscenities from their leader, along with a hefty woman to whom Wilco objectifies constantly with chauvinistic nicknames such as “Sugartits” and “Sweet Cheeks,” and an athletic black character being the subject of a bizarro-world reversal characteristic witch-hunt that relates awfully too familiar with recent race crimes. The social commentary leaves an everlasting trail of uncomfortable goosebumps, working their way toward the heart’s core of human morality and packing a powerful punch when not nearly one single character has any redeeming value.
Crappy World Films in association with Girls and Corpses Magazine produces “Parasites,” an exhibition a do-or-die survival horror framed to point out the loathsome portions of past, and most certainly, current events. Ferrin’s low-budget film goes the extra mile with the brief, yet effective, violent special effects. I’m unable to critique on the audio and video quality of the 108 Media distribution release, nor the bonus features, as a screener copy was provided. “Parasites'” raw approach through characters, story, and cinematography, breathes life into a desolate place like “The Nickel” and gives power to the powerless, remarking upon the monsters we create by ignoring their existence and shunning their potential worth. The fear from this film is all too real.